Where is the irony in the contemporary Christmas sweater? Did their popularity – which snowballed over the last decade or so – stem from a sort of casual festivity, with individuals earnest in their lack of sartorial care inadvertently looking good and beginning a trend? Does the irony in this instance involve a genuine case of the unexpected, with the Christmas sweater the garment of choice for the apparently colourless figure who would wish to show his or her seasonal sense of fun?
Or are those who would condemn the attire in the right? Is the Christmas sweater of today ironic only in so far as it involves a desperate attempt to appear offbeat and carefree: the scouring of secondhand shops or the dark corners of internet shopping sites in the search for something ostensibly ugly yet proudly unique, worn with the pretence that the act is idle or irreverent but still cloyingly highlighted at every wintery turn? As Violet Bick responds when George Bailey compliments her dress, ‘This old thing? Why, I only wear it when I don’t care how I look.’
Sales of the Christmas sweater in 2015 are down and discounts have started early, with one analyst explaining ‘People who wanted to buy everyone in the family a Christmas sweater as a joke have done that now and they are not going to do it again’. But the Christmas sweater doesn’t need to be ironic. It can simply serve as something different to wear at this specific time of year, a gentle aid towards a merrier mood.
In the United Kingdom, Friday 18 December is Christmas Jumper Day, which involves a fundraising campaign between ITV and three charities: Save the Children, Macmillan Cancer Support, and Make-A-Wish. In the United States, the same date is devoted to National Ugly Christmas Sweater Day.
Ugly Christmas Sweater parties have long been a feature of the American landscape, and the website Funky Christmas Sweaters hews closely to this ironic tradition, advertising all of its wares as ‘ugly’, including the pick of its pop-cultural efforts, The Kim Kardashian, which is on sale for $89.95.
If your tastes tend less to Kanye, more to Drake, or if anthropomorphic reindeer fails to prove a turn on, then for just $15 Boohoo.com offers the Zoe Dancing Christmas Jumper, its graphic drawn from Drake’s ‘Hotline Bling’.
Right at this moment, on a website a mere click away, Bay 57 – the official television, film, sci-fi, and superhero merchandiser – has for sale a selection of unisex Star Wars sweatshirts, with the best devoted to Stormtroopers and R2D2. There are four sweatshirts in total, plus two knitted jumpers, with the sweatshirts selling for £14.99: easily affordable if you could only hold back on your fourth showing of The Force Awakens.
But Christmas sweaters don’t have to be cultural tie-ins: their value can reside in sheer expense. Net-A-Porter boasts this garish Sibling Fair Isle wool sweater for women, with pink snowflakes on a background of navy, cobalt blue, and orange, for a meagre £237. Apparently the pattern is inspired by the Danish designer Verner Panton’s vibrant interiors, but this sweater is strictly for external wear: wool tends to chafe against the vital organs.
MatchesFashion.com and Save the Children have teamed up with group of British designers to offer us five Christmas items – four sweaters and one dress – all for £365, with £100 from each sale going to the Fashion Saves Lives campaign. Some of these designs are pretty drab, like the Bella Freud X Kate Moss sweater with its faint pretence of rocker chic, but through straight lines and grosgrain bows, the Giles Deacon X Erin O’Connor dress has more to say for itself.
Comme des Garcons has this women’s sweater with a pattern evocative of candles flames and holly, in Christmas red and green for $346.
And Markus Lupfer provides the elaborately titled Grey Marl Christmas Pudding Sequin Belinda Sweatshirt, for £180 and, with a slight curve in the body, advertised for women.
But Primark continues to sell in stores something similar to the Lupfer pudding, still offering for £12 a version of this jumper which it introduced in 2013.
And Primark rules the British high street when it comes to cheap Christmas fare, for instance with this Musical Ho Ho Ho Christmas Jumper for men for £12, and this Grey Monkey Christmas Jumper for women for £14.
One can also pull off a pudding in style via British Christmas Jumpers and this Pudding Poncho, for £35. Equally priced but more disturbing is the Santa Emoji Poncho, which shows a horde of deliriously wide-eyed Santas staring out from a canvas of green.
Meanwhile an approximation of Chinti & Parker’s pom poms can be reached through the oversized ASOS Christmas Snowball Jumper for £35, with three-quarters of a woman’s head not included. And nice too, and wearable across the winter, is the ASOS Jumper With Ombre Christmas Trees, also for £35.
ASOS leads the way for awful Christmas slogans, with jumpers this year enunciating ‘Jingle My Bells’, ‘Piste Off’, ‘This Girl Loves Santa’, and with an arrow pointing to the obliging face, alternately ‘This Guy Loves Christmas’ and ‘This Guy Hates Christmas’.
H&M gets in on the act courtesy of its Happy & Merry collection starring Katy Perry. The collection includes a Christmas sweater for $19.99 under the popular concept of the ‘Elfie’.
Finally turn to New Look for the Black December 25th Slogan Christmas Jumper for £19.99, which captures at once something of the cynicism and childlike joy around Christmas; and the Black Penguin Fairisle Christmas Jumper for £24.99, a novel take on the Fair Isle sweater.